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Why do bollards need greater scrutiny?

Last month, Splash ran a much read article that looked at the questionable state of bollards in today’s supersized ship era. Following on from that, Willem van Hoorn, managing director of Bollardscan, got in touch with his own views on this specialist subject. His thoughts are carried below.

Safe haven means a harbour or shelter of any kind which offer safe entry and protection from the force of weather during the vessels stay in the safe haven.

Health and safety rules and regulations stipulate that all equipment in a port needs a safety check at the time interval given.

This does not apply to the bollard. The fact is that incidents and accidents caused by breaking or dislodged bollards are costly affairs and can run into the millions of dollars. If for example a cruise line decides not to visit a port for a period of time due to an accident the commercial losses are far reaching. It was only earlier this year that the IMO discussed bollards.

Changes will most likely only affect ships bollards and the mooring systems onboard before action will be taken on shore.

Through the ages the bollard has been the main means of keeping ships safely alongside. Bollards have not changed very much in size or appearance, hence the fact that old bollards of the early 1900s are still in use. Of course, the quality of mooring lines comes into the equation but no bollard, no mooring! Over the last 40 years ships have increased in size while existing ports have not done much to improve the quayside and/or the bollards to securely accommodate these vessels.

The only noticeable improvements over the years have been new fender systems. However, the retrospective installation is often endangering the anchoring of the bollards as a result of design errors.

Back to the bollard. Old rusty bollards properly installed many years ago can still offer a safe mooring point, provided that there has been a check on the integrity of the bollards. This check can be done in a number of ways. The main one being a regular check by trained port staff. What will not be revealed by a visual test are the underlying structural problems. The other more elaborate is a Non -Destructive Test (NDT) where the total bollard and its anchoring are subjected to a test. This type of test will reveal problems in both old and new bollards. The problems found in the older bollards are due to the use over the years. In newly installed bollards we find a lack of instruction by the supplier and a lack of understanding on installation techniques by the contractor.

What are the root causes that makes a bollard unfit for purpose? Maintenance neglect, overloading of the bollard with too many lines exceeding the safe working load of the bollard. Unreported collisions with vehicles driving on the quayside.
Can these causes be taken away? Yes they can. If mooring staff are briefed on keeping their workplace, ie the quayside, clean and in working order maintenance of bollards is sorted, mark the bollards properly with a number and safe working load and adopt the mooring plans to the right SWL level, keep a log on bollard use and incidents.

The best way of testing bollards will always be a point of discussion. Why load test if the bollard is load tested when a ship is berthed on it. Load test equipment is cumbersome and does not allow you to test in remote places. Will load testing give you an answer to underlying problems? If the bollard breaks you have additional unwanted costs! Integrity testing does give an answer to the underlying problems, simple remedial actions can follow out of the test and remote jetties can be reached.

The suggested changing of all bollards into suction or magnetic mooring systems is an interesting but extremely costly idea, and a topic for an article at another time.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.


  1. Mooring staff need regular training. They are basically lazy. They do not like to drag mooring lines to far off bollards. Do not follow pilot, ship or supervisor’s instructions. They tend to place lines on close by bollards reaquiring minimum effort. Do not even place rope eyes evenly on bollards for evrn weight distribution.

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